Tuesday, December 14, 2010

iPad apps for Phonics

I've been challenging myself to use technology more in my speech sessions, and the iPad has been a wonderful way to enjoy that challenge.  If you don't know much about the iPad, it's a neat little touchscreen computer that's really easy to use.  There are lots of little "games" for the iPad, called "apps" (applications).  Many of these apps can also be used on the iPhone or iTouch.  You can download apps from iTunes and use them right away with your iPad, iPhone, or iTouch.  The thing I love about the iPad is that students don't have to know how to use a mouse or keyboard to use it.  They just touch the screen.    For students with fine motor difficulties, the iPad simplifies access to games and activities, and lets the content be the focus.  

Anyway, in the next few weeks, I'm going to do a series in which I review some iPad apps that I've used with my speech students.  Today, I'm going to focus on apps that I've used for beginning readers.  I'll use a scale of 1-5 stars to rate the apps overall, with
1 = Waste of Time, 2 = I've seen worse, 3 = Okay, 4 = Better than many,  and 5 = Amazing App.

ABC Pocket Phonics: Letter sounds & writing + first words - 4 stars ($1.99)
I used ABC Pocket Phonics lite for a while, and then decided to pay the $1.99 for the regular app, because one of my students with autism did so well with this app. Basically, ABC Pocket Phonics has two games:
1) Letter sounds & writing - in which the student is shown a letter, hears its sound, and is then asked to trace the letter. The cool thing is that the tracing game models the correct directionality and gives the child feedback about whether they traced the letter correctly or not (you can set the "grading" to easy, normal, or hard, depending on the child's ability). I've used this part of the game for teaching specific letter sounds, and I just keep pressing the back arrow button to repeat the sound I'm focusing on. The OT I work with appreciates that we model the correct directionality for writing letters while we're learning their sounds.  The thing I don't like about this part of the game is that you can't pick the set of letters/sounds to focus on. But it's pretty motivating, with applause when the student traces the letter correctly. The second game is:
2) the Word Game - In this game, the narrator says a phoneme (sound) and asks the child to pick the corresponding letter (from a field of 7 or so). Then the narrator says the next sound in the word until the whole word is spelled. After all the letters are chosen, the narrator models blending of the new word. I wish that the narrator would wait a bit longer before saying the word, to allow the child more time for blending. Also, again, I wish you could choose the set of words to be used ahead of time, but most of the words are simple CVC words with short vowels, so I'd only use this app for children at that level of encoding/decoding. The best part of this app, to me, is that it's motivating and good for multisensory learning. I wish it could be more individualized, as then I could use it with more of my students who are at a higher level but still need phonics instruction to meet their reading/writing goals.

Build a Word with Word World Characters - 2 stars ($ .99)
I used the lite version of this app for several weeks before upgrading to the regular version because one of my students with autism was so motivated by the TV show "Word World."  I typically use this app as a reward for this student, who is a solid reader and is way past the "building words" stage.  However, I've used this app for fun with my 4 year old daughter, too, and she enjoys it, although it doesn't hold her interest for very long.  Don't let the name of this app fool you---it's basically a letter matching game, and doesn't really teach children how to create words themselves.  (By the way, I'm constantly amazed at the apps that teach something completely different than they claim to teach, but I'll save that rant for another post.)  Build a Word displays a letter on the screen, and then the child must choose the matching letter from a variety of floating letters, at which point the app says the letter name (not the letter sound, as I'd hoped).  Then, the app displays the next letter in the word, and so on, until the student has matched all of the letters in the word that they're "building."  Once they've matched them all, the student squishes the letters together to make a word, and the app sings the little "It's time to build a word" song (from the TV show) and then says the word the student "built."  The repertoire of words that the child is able to build is very limited (maybe 10 words total, and then it just repeats the words in upper or lowercase), so this app gets boring very quickly (unless you're a student with autism who is completely gaga over Word World!).  Overall, I gave it 2 stars just because it's cute, engaging, and slightly educational. 

ABC Phonics Rocks Lite - 3 stars (Free)
ABC Phonics Rocks Lite is an app used to teach students their letter sounds. On the "Letters" section of the game, it just displays the alphabet (capitals), and when students touch a letter, its sound is produced. I wish it had an option for teaching lowercase letters, as well. Also, some of the sounds are hard to understand, so I don't use this part of the app much. On the "Words" section of the game, the student is shown a picture of a simple word to spell (word family words), and blank spaces are provided for the student to fill in letters to spell the word. When the student touches a space, they hear the phoneme that goes there, and then can choose the corresponding letter to go in that spot.  I like that this app says the sounds of the letters rather than their names.  Again, I wish lowercase letters were used, but only capitals are used here, as well. Once the child spells the word correctly, the word dances to music as a reinforcer. My students with autism who typically would not work diligently on a writing/spelling task will encode word-family words many times using this app. I do wish that the app were more flexible and that I could pre-set the target words, but for me, this app works ok as an intro or review for phonics lessons for very early readers focusing on short vowel word families.

Clifford's "Be Big" With Words word writing game - 3 stars  (Free)
In this game, Clifford's friend Jetta is painting, and needs ideas for what to paint.  The object of the game is for the student to spell a word for Jetta to paint.  Below an art easel, the student can choose from 2-4 capital letters to give Jetta some ideas.  The student drags and drops any letter they want into each slot (words are typically 3 letters in length), and the app displays only letters that will work to create simple words, so there's no chance the child will produce a non-word.  Once the 3 slots are filled, the narrator sounds out each letter and then says, "You spelled, bug!", or whatever word was spelled.  I like that this app provides the student with some autonomy as to what word they might want to spell, rather than giving a word and asking the child to spell that word.  Also, I like that success is built-in.  However, I wish this app said the letter sound instead of the letter name when the student is dragging and dropping each letter onto the easel.  I also wish that the narrator paused for a few seconds before telling the child what word they just spelled, to give the child a chance to try blending the sounds themselves first.  This game might be useful for a child who is learning to spell simple CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words with short vowels; however, it's more of a practice activity than a teaching activity.  I've used this app to buy myself time to cook dinner while my daughter plays it, and my daughter loves to show me all the words she spelled and the pictures Jetta painted because she "told her to."

Doodle Buddy - 4 stars (free)
It might seem strange to call this app a phonics app, because it's truly just a drawing app, but I've used it so many different ways to target phonics skills, and students are generally so motivated by this app, that I wanted to include it here. Doodle Buddy is pretty much a fancy magnadoodle.  The student uses his/her finger to draw on the screen, and has options to change the color of the paint, the size of the crayon, to use stamps, etc.  You shake the whole iPad to erase, which is fun for students, as well.  I've used Doodle Buddy to add a multisensory component to learning sound-letter correspondence.  I'll write a letter in one color while saying its sound, and then have the student trace the letter in another color while saying its sound.  I've also written a word family rime on the right side of the screen and allowed the student to use either the "eraser" or "undo" feature to change the onset to make as many different words from that word family rime as they can, while I transcribe the words they've made for us to review later.  There is an option to save pictures that you make into iPhoto, which the students also enjoy.  I find it's a nice way to review what we did in our previous session by looking back at some of the Doodle Buddy pictures we've made together.  This is a very versatile app, and my students really enjoy using it.  Writing activities they would never enjoy with just a pencil and paper become fun and engaging with Doodle Buddy.  Below are some doodles I've made with Doodle Buddy, focusing on short vowels with a student with autism who is a beginning reader.  (Disclaimer:  You probably want to monitor your student/child while using Doodle Buddy, because some of the ads can be difficult to navigate if you accidentally click on them, and you'll want to be there to close them quickly to get back to the fun.  If it weren't for the ads, I'd have given this app 5 stars---too bad!)
Tracing Over my "e" in many different colors for overlearning the short "e" sound

onset and rime game; we had written cat, then turned it into bat, and
will erase the onset (beginning letter) and make mat or hat.

We made a sun chart with short "e" words

So, there you have it, 5 apps that will get you started if you're working on phonics with your iPad (or iPhone or iTouch).

And now for the disclaimer:   The contents of this blog are for informational purposes only. The information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should seek the advice of your health care provider regarding any questions you have. You should not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog. The Gladdest Thing Under the Sun disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on the information on this blog.  Ideas posted here are just general strategies that work for me, and should in no way to be taken as medical advice. If you have a child or grandchild who needs speech and language support, there is no better way to get it than in person with your very own SLP. You can find a certified SLP in your area by going here. 

What are your top 3 apps for the iPad, iPhone, or iTouch?  

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I'm the developer of abc PocketPhonics. Thank you for your kind words and feedback on what you'd like to see improved. I'd be keen to further understand your requirements. If you have some time, please email me: aimpsupport at appsinmypocket .com (separated the bits out as spammers love to harvest these things).